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A Garden of People: Connecting once again in the places we love.

August 19, 2021

By Megan Haley, Garden Interpreter, Royal Botanical Gardens.

Every spring, the colours, smells, and sights of the season bring us out to gardens and trails. The longer days and warmer temperatures lift our spirits. For those of us out in the gardens each day, this season felt different. With over a year at home, many people have started exploring their own backyards, excited to find a variety of outdoor opportunities here at RBG.

Natural spaces have long been important parts of a healthy recovery, and as we all physically and mentally recover from COVID-19’s isolation, it has never been more valuable to have some of what we call NLC, nature love and care.

cootes paradise marsh at sunset
Spring sunset from the Cootes Paradise Marsh Walk

As a Garden Interpreter I have the opportunity to talk to people visiting the gardens, to hear stories of their challenging year, and hear the value that outdoor spaces have in a period of recovery. It has been an honour to safely welcome visitors back to RBG, and I wanted to share the experiences of our staff and volunteers after such an unprecedented year.  

light purple lilac overlooking the lilac dell
Common Lilac, Syringa vulgaris ‘William C. Barry’ planted in 1961 in the Katie Osborne Lilac Collection.

How are you recovering? Places of respite where you can find peace and connect with loved ones are so valuable to many of us these days. Earlier this spring at the RBG Arboretum, the blooming Katie Osborne Lilac Collection brought many families back together in an open outdoor setting. Speaking with visitors who had spent so much time in isolation was moving, and it was a privilege to meet those venturing out from a nursing home for the first time in a year or those with a small child and ensure they felt safe and comfortable in the garden. Old friends were re-united for weekly walks through the garden, and families brought kids to explore the outdoors.  

Ornamental onion, or allium, ‘Star of Persia’ in Hendrie Park.

In Hendrie Park, the popular alliums had the early Rose Garden looking whimsical. This ornamental onion was intriguing for many, and was shared by families who were still waiting to see each other. One day a grandparent would visit, and the next day the grandchildren came to see what they had heard about. Families will always find a way to share experiences, together or apart.

Rock at the Rock’ brought the music of decades past to the Rock Garden, and many staff have recalled their happiness at watching visitors taking their shoes off, dancing, and singing together after so long apart.

With the recent re-opening of the Natural Playground at RBG Centre, kid’s faces have been lighting up as they come back to a favourite place. It is always a joy to have kids back in the gardens, finding snakes and frogs, and keeping us on our toes with their challenging nature questions.

To connect with those unable to visit the gardens in 2020 and the first months of this year, RBG expanded our video programs, developing a YouTube series “RBG at Home”. Since we have re-opened, I have heard from many that our gardening videos inspired people to start growing, with stories of bathtub potatoes and balcony peppers bringing nature home. Personally, these videos connected me to a place where I grew up, with videos of hiking trails and wildlife at RBG reminding me to step away from the computer and connect with nature again. Being in school online this year made returning to RBG this summer all the better, and many people visiting the gardens express how lucky we are to have it — I couldn’t agree more!

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